The remarks were part of what the American and French leaders believed to be a private chat after a news conference in Cannes last week, during the G20 economic conference. The pair were still wearing microphones, and some journalists who still had their headphones on for translation caught the remarks, which were first reported by the French photo agency Arret Sur Images.
A Reuters news agency reporter who was also present has since confirmed the exchange.
As the two leaders discussion turns to Israel and the Palestinians, Sarkozy is first to express his distaste for the conservative Israeli Prime Minister.
"I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar," the French president was heard to say.
In response, according to the account by Arret Sur Images, Mr. Obama sympathizes with Sarkozy's frustration, saying, "you're fed up, but I have to deal with him every day."
There is no immediate indication as to whether a recording of the private conversation exists.
I have no doubt it does. Journalists-- not the sheepish kind we have here in America who bleat whatever their corporatist overlords tell them, but the real ones that report overseas-- tend to be sticklers for on the record accuracy, and on-the-fly translations are not always the most accurate available. Someone's dictaphone was running.
Netanyahu seems to have an issue when it comes to honesty. At least once, he's had to drop out of politics due to a scandal involving corruption, including charges of infidelity. In 1997, Israeli police recommended his indictment for influence peddling, and again in 1999, on charges that he accepted $100,000 in free personal services from a government contractor. Neither time was an indictment handed up.
But it seems clear that Netanyahu has some familiarity with lying.
So now we have an influential European leader, president Sarkozy, calling Netanyahu out for his lies, and the most powerful leader in the free world, President Obama, sort of off-handedly agreeing with him.
I'm not completely convinced there isn't some political theatre involved here. As recently as September, Sarkozy offered up a proposal to grant the Palestinians observer status in the United Nations, a sort of half-hearted, ham-handed proposal that marked Sarkozy as the de facto mediator in that Middle East dispute.
It's conceivable that Obama has ceded the traditional American leadership role with respect to Israel to the French, and that Sarkozy was merely commenting on his frustrations with Netanyahu. It's also conceivable that Obama has Sarkozy acting as a figurehead in the dialogue to remove himself as a target of the right wing neo-con yammerheads for whom Israel = God.
After all, although raised strictly Catholic, Sarkozy can claim Jewish heritage (his mother is a Greek Jew by birth, which automatically confers Jewish status on Sarkozy by Talmudic law,) which gives him some credibility in these matters.
And as a conservative politician, for whatever that means in terms of French politics as opposed to American, he quiets the right wing who are too quick to defend him after his attempts to remake the French labor force more in the image of America.